This is always a tough list to put together, but a fun exercise at the end of each year. It seems this year was more about great songs than great albums, but there were still plenty of great full-lengths to consider for the list. Find my top 10 below, plus five more that just didn’t quite make the cut.
1. David Bryne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
This spot could have easily been given to either of the two albums sitting just beneath it, but it won the edge for me because of the expectations it had to meet. David Byrne and Annie Clark are two amazing and respected artists, so news of their collaboration brought a whole lot of anticipation. With one hell of a horn section, they were able to create an album that exceeded expectations, and one I’ll be spinning for years to come.
2. Field Report – Field Report
Chris Porterfield’s talents as a songwriter and singer took a long time for him to tap into—his debut self-titled album with his band Field Report was the result of several years of writing. His path to Field Report started a long time ago and included a stint in DeYarmond Edison, Justin Vernon’s band before Bon Iver, but the journey has paid off. Many artists will never write 10 songs as good as the ones on Field Report, let alone put them on the same album.
3. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit
LP3 was yet another step in a new direction for Delta Spirit, who executed a move from San Diego to New York before recording the album. It appears the move impacted this record greatly as the band has leaned towards more modern indie rock, shying away from the Americana label that they only began shedding on 2010′s History From Below. The risk paid off big time, with “Money Saves,” “Empty House,” and “California” highlighting a great, energetic album.
4. Dave Matthews Band – Away From the World
Dave Matthews is not the same writer he used to be, but he still has one of the most talented bands helping bring his songs to life. 2009′s Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King showed a revitalized group that had struggled to put out great new music for the better part of a decade. They carried that momentum into the studio to record Away From the World and came out with another above-par album that hasn’t received enough critical attention this year.
5. The Wooden Sky – Every Child a Daughter, Every Moon a Sun
If I was making a list of the most under-appreciated bands in the world right now, The Wooden Sky could very well sit at the top of it. Every Child a Daughter… is their third album and yet another display of fine songwriting and craftsmanship from Gavin Gardiner and co. This effort wasn’t quite as amazing as its predecessor, If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone, but it came pretty damn close.
6. Goodnight, Texas – A Long Life of Living
One of the year’s best kept secrets may not be so unknown for long. Goodnight, Texas, a collaboration between songwriters Patrick Dyer Wolf and Avi Vincour, released their debut LP A Long Life of Living earlier this year and critics have started to notice the heartfelt, gritty folk music coming from the group. These guys captured the attitude of late-nineteenth century blue-collar America with 11 wonderful songs and stories that Wolf and Vincour tell like seasoned vets.
7. Kopecky Family Band – Kids Raising Kids
After releasing 3 LPs during their formative years, Kopecky Family Band finally delivered their debut full-length this fall and did not disappoint. Kids Raising Kids has already earned the Nashville-based sextet accolades across the country, including the title of Artist to Watch this month from Philly’s own WXPN. “My Way,” “Are You Listening,” “Angry Eyes,” and others show a band at the top of their game, organizing their moving parts into great indie rock songs.
8. Strand of Oaks – Dark Shores
Timothy Showalter has done it again. He followed his amazing 2009 debut Leave Ruin with the magnificent, critically beloved Pope Killdragon. This year, he returned with Dark Shores, yet another change-of-pace effort that redefines what we know and love about Showalter’s songwriting. He stripped it all down this time around, with the help of producer John Vanderslice, getting rid of the synthesizers and letting his jaw-dropping voice take the lead.
9. Dan Deacon – America
I regard Dan Deacon’s Bromst (2009) as the greatest electronic music album ever released, so I was keeping my expectations low as I waited for America to arrive this past summer. After all, it’s always difficult to follow a masterpiece. America is not quite as masterful, but reinforces my belief that Dan Deacon is on his own private level in the electronic world.
10. Lushlife – Plateau Vision
The only tougher spot than #1 to decide on for this list was this one, #10. Any of the albums in the honorable mentions list below could have easily fit here, but Plateau Vision gets the nod because of how innovative it is. With his new album, Philly’s Raj Halder, a.k.a. Lushlife has cemented himself as one of the best hip-hop MC/producer in the game today.
Cheers Elephant – Like Wind Blows Fire
Delta Rae – Carry the Fire
Jack White – Blunderbuss
Maps & Atlases – Beware and Be Grateful
Shearwater – Animal Joy